Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, June 23, 2001

The Rev. Howard Masaki unfolds sutras, or prayers, in front of
the Lahaina Shingon Mission. The church was holding a prayer
observance as it approached its 100th anniversary in Hawaii.

Maui’s Shingon
Mission celebrates
its 100th anniversary

Tonight's Obon festival
will include a service
involving 30 ministers

By Gary Kubota

LAHAINA >> In the early 1900s, when sugar production was West Maui's main industry, most members of the Lahaina Shingon Mission walked to church, according to Yoshiharu "Sam" Nakamura.

"I guess those days, nobody had cars," said Nakamura, 76.

On a strip of property a block from the tourist shops on Front Street, the church still serves as a reminder of that earlier era when Lahaina was a sugar plantation town and thousands of Japanese immigrants were discovering a new life in the United States.

The church, the first Shingon mission in Hawaii and a spiritual center for many Lahaina families, is holding celebrations as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

Shingon members held a dinner observance last night at the Maui Marriott.

The mission will celebrate its centennial at 6 tonight with an 0bon festival on its grounds, including a Daihannya service with 30 ministers opening 600 volumes of sutras, or prayers.

The Obon festival, featuring women in kimono and men in hapi coats dancing around a musician tower, honors the spirits of ancestors.

The Shingon mission, a sect that retains much of the Indian influence of Buddhism, has 14 churches statewide.

The mission was founded in 1902 by a former Lahaina sugar worker, the Rev. Hogan Yujiri.

The church rented a house on the property to use as a chapel and later replaced it with a larger building constructed in 1941 to accommodate the growth in the congregation.

By 1920 more than 45 percent of Maui's 38,052 residents were Japanese, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

While the Japanese minister of the church was held at an internment camp during World War II, a number of its members who were sons of Japanese immigrants fought in the 442nd Infantry Regiment.

After returning to Maui, they resumed their connection with the church.

"My parents were members over here," Nakamura said. "The second generation follows them and tries to help too."

The congregation, some 30 members who are mostly in their 70s, has shrunk, as many of their children left Maui.

"Before World War II there were many members," said the Rev. Howard Masaki. "People are getting old, and the younger generation went to the mainland or Honolulu or college, and they never returned."

Sugar cane production shut down at Pioneer Mill more than a year and a half ago, and the town now relies on tourism for most of its employment.

Along Luakini Street fronting the church, two restaurants and a shopping center have replaced some houses, but the pace is still slow and residential.

The one-way road is too narrow for speeding traffic or street parking.

The Shingon church has no paved parking lot. Church members park their vehicles on the grass inside the Shingon grounds.

The Rev. Masaki lives in a house next to the church, and across the street is the residence of a congregational minister and a missionary house that now serves as a museum.

The new generation of Shingon clergy, such as Masaki, speaks English and sees the need to expand the membership.

Masaki said he plans to teach Japanese language in September because church members want their grandchildren to learn Japanese.

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